Where the inside of my mind leaks onto the screen.

Monday, March 26, 2012

#9: Learn More About Autism

I'm not crossing this one off the 40-by-Forty list yet, but it's a task I've decided it's time to tackle.  According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, approximately 6 out of 1000 children will have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

I'm not sure if the average individual has the opportunity to meet 1000 children in his or her lifetime.  But, quickly tallying students at school and in theater programs, I know that over the last 10 years, I've easily already met that number.  And I find it interesting that, reflecting on those same groups of students, my personal experiences support the 6-in-1000 statistic.

I figure that in the next 10 years, I'm likely to have the opportunity to teach, direct, and befriend at least another six children on the autism spectrum.  I'm determined this time around to at least be armed with a bit more knowledge so my impact can be as positive as possible.

So I looked up a list of books on autism, and the first to be available at my local library was Nobody Nowhere.  This book is incredibly unique in that it is actually written by a woman who was able to learn to operate outside her autistic tendencies.  Apparently, the ability even to recognize one's own autism is far from the norm, and to be able to write a novel about it is that much more remarkable.

But in addition to autism, Donna Williams' childhood was filled with abuse and food allergies which make some of her experiences difficult to attribute to any particular factor.  The book was very interesting, but not the eye-opener I'd hoped for.  In fact, it wasn't until the afterword that I felt I "learned" some things that I could use.

So, for my future reference, a few ideas gleaned from my first novel regarding autism:

  • Difficulties in expressive communication may actually happen because the autistic person has to distance himself or herself from emotions.  It is really hard to communicate without emotion.
  • I want to try keeping my voice as even and soothing as possible, but stressing the most important words.  Williams suggests that for her, there had to be a balance between soothing (which she would tune out) and accented (which would make her nervous) if she was going to understand anything.
  • It's not that people with autism have no language skills.  It's just that their language is not my language.  If I want to communicate, maybe I should try learning the child's language rather than expecting him to learn mine.
My quest for knowledge is far from over, so if you have any recommended readings (or personal advice) feel free to comment!